Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Couple Quickies

The Brooklyn Brown Ale I received in a trade recently was 5 months past its "best by" date but I took the plunge anyway, hoping I would get something still fairly drinkable. The smell is pretty good, although maybe slightly oxidized. Lots of caramel sweetness is there. The same goes for the taste, with a sharp toasted malt presence before a nice chocolaty aftertaste. I probably would have never guessed this beer was that much past it's prime. I probably would have never noticed. This is a beer I would definitely search out again if I could find it fresh. Brown ale has quickly become one of my favorite styles of beer (after not getting off to such a great start with a Sam Smith's Nut Brown I had once).

Switching things up was a Belgian-style golden ale, the Deschutes 19th Anniversary Ale. Their 19th anniversary was last year, so this getting up there in age, but should be supported reasonably by its 8.7% ABV. The reviews on this were pretty lukewarm, but I thought it was a nice tasting Belgian-style beer. It provided a lot of the earthiness a standard Belgian would, with a sweetness in there as well. Although I don't drink Delirium Tremens that often, I would really compare this to what I remember of the Delirium. Really light and effervescent, pretty good, but not great.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Coming Up...

  • I'll be hitting the Port Brewing/Lost Abbey 2nd year anniversary party this Saturday.
  • Final exams are from Tuesday the 6th to Monday the 12th. :-(
  • Either Wednesday or Thursday (14th or 15th) I'll be doing a little San Diego/Alpine trip to load up on growlers for a little BBQ we'll be having that Sunday.
  • The San Diego Toronado is apparently set to open May 20th... that should be interesting.

Friday, April 25, 2008

An Impromptu Wednesday Night Beer Tasting

After recently having Choklat, from Southern Tier Brewing Company, my friend Steve was on somewhat of a quasi-mission to try some other really good chocolate beers. The one we were able to procure was Foothill's Sexual Chocolate out of Winston-Salem, NC. This is yet another beer that seems to have a cult following due to its ultra limited production. I'm not sure how many batches of this have been made (it's listed as seasonal on the Foothill's website) but at least for the last one there were only 500 bottles. I wasn't sure how long my buddy was gonna tuck this away but I got a call from him late Wednesday night to get up here so we can test these out.

To get the Sexual Chocolate we had to trade, of course, and that person threw us in an extra Chocolate Donut Stout, from Shenandoah Brewing in Alexandria, VA. We started with this, figuring it had a lower ABV (it seems to be ~7%). Although the mouthfeel of this may seem a bit on the thin side for a 7% stout, it's very tasty. Roast coffee flavors are present in small amounts and there is a definite cocoa powder aroma to it. As it warms up a bit the richness of the chocolate really goes well with the other malt in it, making a very tasty beer without going overboard. That keeps the drinkability really high. Chocolate Donut Stout could serve as an everyday drinking stout for me.

Port Brewing Santa's Little Helper served as a bit of an intermission between our two new beers. Everyone really likes this beer. This first time I had this it came across as highly roasted yet with a bit sweet chocolaty presence in it. Yesterday all the flavors seemed to blend together with much less roasted bitterness. Made it easily drinkable but not so interesting.

After that we went right to the Sexual Chocolate. The main downfall here is that I was expecting something along the lines of Choklat- something super rich and almost tasting like pure chocolate. That's not what Sexual Chocolate is about, even though it is "cocoa infused." It really is much closer to your traditional Imperial Stout. The chocolate is more along the lines of bitter non-sweet chocolate. Overall it's very chewy. As a specialty beer it didn't stand out much from many other beers, but it was very good just as a regular imperial stout. This is a good beer, but not quite what the demand for only 500 bottles might make it seem.

For food pairing concerns we went with Alien Jerky (Baker, CA) cowboy and hot jerky. We also threw a Hop Trip in at the end which I figured had probably gone south by now, but it was actually still somewhat good.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Beer Travel Guide - Orange County

I've seen the same question frequently asked on beer forums. This question is "I'm traveling to [name a city]. What breweries, beer bars, or beer stores should I make a point to stop at?" Now, if you use BeerAdvocate a lot, then you know about the BeerFly directory where you can look up places by state, city, zip or whatever, and it will list all the different places with their ratings and user reviews. People know about this, will consult it, and will still want to see what "locals" recommend. So here is my attempt to help anyone that is traveling to Orange County, CA.

The first thing you need to realize is that Orange County is big. I like to define it simply as the distance between Brea (North) and San Clemente (South). And as we'll see, that is a convenient, beer-oriented definition. The distance between Brea and San Clemente via freeway is 42.4 miles and depending on when you are driving this could be a 30 minute or a 3 hour distance. I will tailor my recommendations to the usual person who has 2-3 days with only a limited number of time to hit the beer scene and doesn't have the time to go every beer place in the area.

I've constructed the following maps with zones that approximately separate the mystical North, Central, and South Orange County.

North Orange County (ex- Brea, Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana)

TAPS Fish House & Brewery, Brea - This is 1 of 2 locations in Southern California and they make very well crafted beers that have won medals as recently as 2007 at the GABF (Silver and Bronze for the Russian Imperial Stout and Cream Ale, respectively). They usually have ~8 beers on tap (inluding 1 on cask) which often rotate from their stock of about 30 or so. This is an upscale brewpub. They do have standard pub grub but also upscale meals from their skilled chefs. There is also an oyster bar if that interests you.

Hollingshead's Deli, Orange - This tiny little bar/beer store is in the corner of your standard strip mall. It's a beer store and deli with a bar that holds about 15 taps. It is family owned and thus you get family hours. You need to be lucky and be here during the week because they aren't open on weekends. Last call is also pretty early, say 8-ish. There are a ton of deli sandwiches to choose from and the tap selection is top notch. If you're looking for beer-to-go then grab a pint and peruse the shelves while you sip. If you don't want to drink anything on tap then grab something from the coolers to have with your meal. The family that runs this are huge Packers fans, so that could be a good thing if you're a cheese head.

Other places to consider:

  • BJ's Brewery & Restaurant (many locations throughout Southern California, there is one in Brea).
  • Oggi's Pizza & Brewing Company, Orange.

Central Orange County (Irvine, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach).

Hi-Time Wine Cellar, Costa Mesa - This is the place to go for beer if you're in the area. The store overall is huge, with a big underground wine cellar, tons of liquor on the ground floor, and a big walk-in cooler filled with beer. You can browse their inventory on their website but they don't usually list limited or special releases on there, so you won't know if they have them until you call or go for yourself.

Other places to consider:
  • Goat Hill Tavern, Costa Mesa.
  • BJ's Brewery & Restaurant in Huntington Beach.
  • Anthill Pub & Grill on the UC Irvine campus.
  • Steelhead Brewing Company & Restaurant, across the street from UC Irvine.
  • Newport Beach Brewing Company, Newport Beach.
  • Oggi's Pizza & Brewing Company, Tustin and Huntington Beach.

South Orange County

Pizza Port, San Clemente - If you are a beer geek you will do whatever it takes to make it here.

Other places to consider:
  • Oggi's Pizza & Brewing Company, Mission Viejo (can probably be considered south Orange County)

Other bottle shops: Often someone's significant other is the one traveling and doesn't want to make a long trip to the best places to bring back beer, so a good alternative is any one of the many Beverages & More locations which have a huge selection of beer as well. In fact, if you visit their website you can see what is in stock at each location and tell the person who is traveling which beers to buy.

Next travel guide: San Bernardino County

Monday, April 21, 2008

Real Quick Comment About BJ's

If you haven't been able to tell already, I'm a huge fan of BJ's Pizza & Brewery, or whatever you want to call them. Their Piranha Pale Ale is one of my all-time favorite beers but tonight I went ahead and tried a new beer on tap- their Maibock. It was very tasty. Dark clear orange in color, sweet aroma, with a sweet malty, banana (yeah I think they got a little too much out of their yeast for this beer), and spicy taste. It was super tasty overall. When I originally got there I was totally in the mood for a hoppy Piranha Pale Ale but I declined once they told me they had the Maibock and an Oatmeal Stout on tap (that I've fortunately already had) and I was glad I went with the Maibock. The pizza is one of my favorites already.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Summer of Beer..... & Bourbon?

I'm kicking myself that I didn't start enjoying bourbon until just recently. When I use to go out to bars with friends to order a cocktail my standard choice was Captain & Coke. Many times bartenders mistakingly make a Jack & Coke in this situation and I was able to tell just by the revolting smell of Jack Daniels. I even tried scotch a couple times and it made me want to gag. That hate for all things whiskey, whisky, bourbon, or scotch all changed when my friend introduced me to an amazing little bar in downtown LA called the Seven Grand. Here they specialize in whiskey but have many other fine spirits as well, made by bartenders who are students and professionals of mixology. One of the main attractions is their Mint Julep (yes it's a long ways away from Churchill Downs) which is served in the classic silver cup (and they make you put a $15 deposit down on that cup so you don't go running off with it). I have tried to make Mint Juleps at home and I butchered it pretty bad. When I tasted one at the Seven Grand, the balance between bourbon, mint, and sugar was stunningly balanced and tasty. The bartenders put a lot of effort into the these cocktails, as it usually takes them a good 3-5 minutes to craft 2 at a time since they crush the ice manually and take great care in the mixology of it. It also takes 3 or so minutes for them to make a bourbon sour which I have ordered a couple times. No they don't just throw bourbon and sour mix into a glass, they shake bourbon, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and pasteurized egg whites and pour into a glass. The Mint Julep and sour are amazing, but what keeps me going back and made me realize that I'm starting to really like bourbon is the Old Fashioned. It's a bit of simple syrup and a couple slices of orange rind which are muddled to release the oils topped off by a few oz's of bourbon (their house selection is Maker's Mark, although I also enjoy Woodford Reserve) and a couple dashes of Angostura bitters. It's hard to even describe the taste. It's bourbon that is bursting with fresh orange citrus oil and a touch of sweetness. There's still plenty of a bourbon presence to keep it a manly drink though, thankfully. For any beer enthusiasts, the Seven Grand also has a handful of quality taps as well.

Developing a taste for bourbon also comes in handy with all the special bourbon barrel aging that brewers are doing these days, though I would say I even liked those beers before I realized I liked bourbon. With the Kentucky Derby coming up in a couple weeks you can bet I'll be pouring myself a couple old fashioneds made with the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby- Woodford Reserve. It'll probably serve as a nice hair-of-the-dog after Port Brewing's 2nd year anniversary the day before.

Friday, April 18, 2008

How Good Is Beer When You Haven't Had It For Over 72 Hours?

Very good. Especially when it's a Nugget Nectar.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More From Lucky Baldwin's Strong Beer Fest

We had the distinct pleasure of killing the Pliny the Younger keg at the Sierra Madre location, after about 130 oz or so of the nectar. In the middle is supposedly a Marin White Knuckle IPA and if it really is I can't say I've ever had a worse IPA. I'm thinking the bartender might have poured me the wrong beer because this one tasted almost like grape juice (it was probably Craftsman Cabernale, or maybe their Honesty Ale).

Earlier today for lunch I had a Craftsman Biere de Mars which was fantastic, along with very good Alesmith Old Numbskull and Speedway Stout. On the other hand I had a Green Flash Barleywine and it tasted like rotten green apples... so I think it was infected but the bartender wouldn't taste it as she didn't really like barleywines.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lucky Baldwin's Strong Beer Fest

I crammed in a bunch of studying today so that I could take the night off and man was that the best decision ever. Let's get to the beer.

We first went out a few miles past our normal hangout of Lucky Baldwin's Delirium Cafe in Sierra Madre to the original Lucky Baldwin's in Pasadena since they have more taps and I figured that'd be the only place that would have Pliny the Younger on tap. We got out there and ordered a couple 12oz glasses of the Younger right off the bat. Now I remember liking this beer much more when I had it a couple months ago at Hollingshead's Deli when it was first released, but that's not to say it wasn't still pretty good tonight. For our next round we went with some tasters. One of the main attractions of this Strong beer/Barleywine fest is that they have 9 years of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot on tap ('00-'08). We ordered up tasters of the 2000 and 2004 Bigfoot. We were impressed by each. The '00 was amazingly malty with a really smooth feel to it, while the '04 still had some of it's bite left though still really malty. Compared to a fresh current sample both had lost a lot of their alcohol heat and big hop character but still had a ton of flavor to them. The last thing we I got here at the Pasadena location was the Anchor Old Foghorn which I have not had before. All I can say is, WOW, what a different barleywine. Old Foghorn has a berry sweetness and fruitiness to it that sets it apart from other malt or hop accentuated barleywines I've had in the past. It was very good I thought.

After that we started the trek back home, but decided to stop after a few miles at our normal hangout, Lucky Baldwin's Delirium Cafe which was also having the same "fest" although they have about 10-15 fewer taps. When we got there our favorite bartender Chris poured us a nice huge glass of Stone IRS '08 to have, which took me a long time to work my way through. In the meantime my buddy's girlfriend and her friend worked through a couple samples of Marin White Knuckle IPA which I got a little taste of and seemed very nice. I was still trying to work though this huge glass of Stone IRS though. In the meantime my buddy Loren got a taster of the new Avery Collaboration Not Litigation batch 2 which I hadn't had yet (although I did have a bottle of batch 01) and this new batch came out a lot lighter than that first batch. They must've added a bigger proportion of Avery's Salvation which is a lighter Belgian strong pale ale compared to Russian River's Salvation which is a Belgian style dark ale. Batch 1 is pictured to the right. Anyway, the consensus on this was that it was "ok." To finish things off we went with a Full Sail Imperial Porter which contained a nice amount of roastiness and coffee without too thick of a feel to it.

Lucky Baldwin's Strong Beer Fest continues through April 20th.

Luck Baldwin's Barleywine and Strong Beer Festival

The Tap List For Old Town Pasadena Location

  1. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot '00
  2. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot '01
  3. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot '02
  4. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot '03
  5. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot '04
  6. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot '05
  7. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot '06
  8. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot '07
  9. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot '08
  10. Lagunitas Olde Gnarleywine
  11. Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball
  12. Lagunitas Lumpy Gravy
  13. Russian River Pliny the Younger
  14. Avery Maharaja
  15. Avery Collaboration Not Litigation
  16. Craftsman Baldwin Abbey 10
  17. Craftsman Triple White Sage
  18. Craftsman Biere de Mars
  19. Craftsman Baltic Porter
  20. Craftsman Edgars Ale
  21. Stone Imperial Russian Stout
  22. Stone Double Bastard
  23. Stone Old Guardian
  24. Stone Smoked Porter
  25. Stone Arrogant Bastard
  26. Port Brewing Old Viscosity
  27. North Coast Old Rasputin
  28. North Coast Old Stock Ale
  29. Full Sail Imperial Porter
  30. Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye
  31. Green Flash Barleywine
  32. Lost Coast Scotch Ale
  33. Alesmith Speedway Stout
  34. Alesmith Old Numbskull
  35. Anchor Old Foghorn
  36. Telegraph Robust Porter
  37. Delirium Tremens
  38. Delirium Nocturnum
  39. Maredsous 10
  40. Buffalo Imperial Belgian Stout
  41. Scaldis Noel
  42. Brigand
  43. Leffe Brown
  44. Kasteel Triple
  45. Kasteel Bruin
  46. Piraat
  47. Aventinus Eisbock
Tap List For The Sierra Madre Location
  1. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot (I believe they also have '00-'08)
  2. Russian River Pliny the Younger
  3. North Coast Brother Thelonious
  4. North Coast Old Stock
  5. North Coast Old Rasputin
  6. North Coast Pranqster
  7. Stone Old Guardian
  8. Stone Smoked Porter
  9. Stone Arrogant Bastard
  10. Stone Imperial Russian Stout
  11. Alesmith Old Numbskull
  12. Avery Maharaja
  13. Avery Collaboration Not Litigation
  14. Anchor Old Foghorn
  15. Anchor Porter
  16. Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball
  17. Full Sail Imperial Porter
  18. Craftsman Baltic Porter
  19. Craftsman Heavenly Hefe
  20. Craftsman Cabernale
  21. Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye
  22. Anderson Valley Brother David Triple
  23. Marin White Knuckle IPA
  24. Lost Coast Scotch Ale
  25. Maredsous 10
  26. Delirium Tremens
  27. Brigand
  28. Gulden Draak
  29. Kasteel Triple
  30. Kasteel Brune
  31. Scotch de Silly
  32. La Divine
  33. Piraat
  34. (+ more of their standard English and other Belgian taps)
*Sierra Madre also has a keg of Pliny the Elder they will be hooking up soon.

Monday, April 7, 2008

How Did I Spend My Amendment of the Volstead Act Day?

Pretty simply actually. Met a few friends at Lucky Baldwin's Delirium Cafe for a couple pints. Tonight brought with it a pint of Stone IPA, Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball, and Boon Gueuze. I don't drink Stone IPA regularly, even though it is pretty easy to find around here, but tonight I realized how awesome that beer is. I never really thought it had the flavors I liked in an IPA but I must have been wrong or my taste buds changed a bit in the last half year. The Boone Gueuze was very good too. As for the Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball though... a bit too sweet for me. It did have an interesting Belgian character to it but it actually reminded me of the ultra cloyingly sweet Leffe Brown. Fun night anyway.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

It's A Celebration B*tch!

(Credit to Dave Chappelle for the post title). A little celebration here at the house tonight after USC baseball took the 2nd game to clinch a series victory over ucla. The fact that ucla also lost to Memphis in basketball doesn't hurt, but unlike the Ruins, USC fans actually root for their own team to win more than their rival to lose. But I digress. So what did we start with tonight? How about a fresh growler of Stone Ruination. And what better way to celebrate some ucla bRUIN losses than with a growler of Stone RUINation. There's nothing quite like some fresh, hoppy, bitter, Ruination. In the last year this beer has gone from kinda "eh" to one of my favorite beers.

As the UNC/Kansas game came on and a few buddies started to file into the house we started splitting bottles of stouts I had. I had 4 stouts from Bell's brewery in Michigan. First up was their lightest stout, a sweet stout they name Kalamazoo Stout. For a somewhat lighter stout this beer may have been nearing it's prime. It still had a bit of sweetness to it as expected, with a hint of mellow coffee in the background, but it also had a kinda sour aspect to it. It is brewed with brewer's licorice but I couldn't detect any. Everyone liked it though.

Next up was Bell's Cherry Stout. Seems to be a beer people really like, or really hate. I liked it quite a bit. Had a sour cherry syrup sorta taste going on in it over the standard stout body. For some reason that was good to me.

The next one up was Bell's Java Stout. I couldn't detect much coffee if any at all, but other people could. Then again I've had the likes of Ballast Point Imperial Coffee porter which was I think just fresh brewed coffee with a bit of alcohol in it. The java stout didn't really come close. It is probably much better fresh out of the tanks.

The final Bell's stout was their Expedition Stout, a Russian Imperial Stout. Did not care for this one much at all. More of a soy, sour dark malt aspect to it. It still averages an "A" grade on Beeradvocate but there seem to be a huge portion of poor reviews for it also. I guess I'd fall in the latter category.

After the lineup of Bell's stouts which we all generally enjoyed going through I felt like pulling out some chocolate beers. First one up was Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout that I've been holding onto. This beer has quite a reputation. All of it's flavor is derived from roasted barley and not from real chocolate additives (unlike the next beer). This wasn't so much a chocolate bomb or anything, but it was a GREAT Russian Imperial Stout in general. Don't drink this cold either cause as it warms up the roasted barley and chocolate malt flavors come out more. An excellent beer overall.

The final beer was the Southern Tier Choklat, which is brewed with bittersweet Belgian chocolate. As I drank this the only thing that came to mind was "milk chocolate." Wow was it chocolate flavored. Oh, the alcohol is quite present as well at 11% ABV. Amazing beer. The night concluded with a run up to a local diner called Legend's to get an order of fries. Not a bad night overall.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Southern Tier IPA

Well, after a long day of work I came home and wasn't planning on having a beer until I figured it'd be good to celebrate USC's dominant 6-1 victory over Westwood High (ucla) in baseball today. I pulled out the Southern Tier IPA that's been in the fridge for a few weeks.

This IPA is pretty simple when it comes to ingredients- pale and caramel malt, bittered with Columbus, flavored with Willamette, and dry hopped for aroma with Cascade. This is a pretty good tasting IPA. I don't know if I've ever had one that uses Willamette a good deal, if at all. The smell overall has that floral quality but it also has a pretty syrupy sweetness to it as well. In the taste the hops come out pretty florally and stick with a resinous bitterness. Of course there is a bit of pine in there as well.

It averages a 4.03/A- on BeerAdvocate, while I give it a 4.05/A-

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Smuttynose Robust Porter

Sticking with the Smuttynose theme this week, I pulled the last one I had out of the fridge tonight as I finish studying some packets for an upcoming final. This was simply the Smuttynose Robust Porter. I have looked forward to this since porter is one of my favorite styles of beer and I just got finished brewing up my own robust porter (which everyone has seemed to really like although there's way too much banana in it from the London ale yeast).

This beer can be summed up pretty simply with the word "roasty." But to add a little more to that not only is it high on the roasted barley it seems high on the even higher roasted malts. The roastiness hits you up front, gives way to a bit of sweetness and then the acrid bitter roastiness sticks in the back of the mouth. This beer reminds me a lot of Fuller's London Porter. It's really not my favorite type of flavor profile, though I do like roastiness, I don't like it lingering, unbalanced by some sweet caramel or chocolate malt.

Smuttynose Robust Porter averages 4.16/A- on BeerAdvoacte. I'm giving it a 3.7/B

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale

Pulled this out of the fridge when I realized the best before date on the side of the label was notched at March '08. I hate getting old beers (which you run the risk of when trading sometimes) and was worried about this. It didn't actually turn out too bad.

Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale is crafted in the English pale ale tradition as it weighs in at 5% ABV, with 30 IBU. If you're interested (and if you homebrew you probably are) the malts they use are pale, carastan, crystal 60L, and even some wheat. They must be trying to give this some sort of distinct American character as they go with Cascade and Chinook hops. The pour is very nice, my favorite color for a pale ale- clear and orange. The smell is grainy, with some earthy, dirty smelling hops that kinda remind me of Dogfish Head's 60 minute IPA. The taste is much different though, and what comes to mind is Firestone's Double Barrel Ale- another English pale ale. The taste is bready with an earthy and peppery finish. Not bad overall, although there are pale ale's I prefer more (ie the ones that tend to be more hoppy), but this seems good for the style.

It averages 3.8/B+ on BeerAdvocate, I gave it a 3.9/B+.